Agriculture Bill is not the radical rethink we need
12th September 2018
Earlier this year, the Government ran a consultation on the future of agriculture policy in England. You can read our 10 key points to see how we responded here.
Following this consultation, the long-awaited Agriculture Bill is being published today (12th September 2018) and this is our response.
The devil is in the detail….and in the trade deal. Getting these right is essential if we are to avoid a green fringes Brexit, and a widespread exodus from farming.
Tom MacMillan, Director of Innovations, Soil Association, said:
We welcome confirmation that public money will be aimed at providing public goods, and the focus on soils, water and air quality that this entails, but it is disappointing that human health is not included in the list of goods that should be supported by the taxpayer. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s not the radical rethink of food production that is desperately needed if the government is serious about saving nature, restoring soil health and tackling climate change.
At this stage, it is hard to determine whether the Environmental Land Management schemes will ensure the comprehensive support farmers need to move from decades of overreliance on agro-chemicals and cheap fossil fuels to a more ecological approach across all our land. The headlines Government has trailed so far fail to mention climate-friendly farming systems such as organic and agroforestry, despite the wealth of scientific evidence showing that organic agriculture is good for wildlife, soil health, water quality, climate change and animal welfare.So far, we have no indication of the level of investment that will go to achieve Government’s aims, but it should be at least at the level farmers receive now – redirected to benefit the environment, nature, farm animals and human health, and secure the viability of farming businesses.
It’s disappointing that there is no mention of the link between farming, food and public health, despite the call for this to be a top priority from a broad coalition of food, farming and public health experts and practitioners, and, indeed, ‘health and harmony’ being the title of the Government’s own consultation on the future of agriculture.
The extended transition of 7 years is to be welcomed, giving farmers time and motivation to adopt, although great care must be taken to ensure we see major progress towards nature friendly farming during and after this period. As a partner in the Innovative Farmers programme, we’re delighted to see a commitment to farmer-led research and innovation.
Over-riding all of this, however, is the widespread consensus that a no-deal or hard Brexit would be catastrophic for food standards, farmers and the environment. Whether the UK stays in a customs union or similar will determine whether farmers have a viable economic future to produce public goods and farmers need a level of certainty the Government has so far failed to provide. There is no chance of today’s proposals delivering a Green Brexit unless politicians start listening to public concerns, farmers, food experts and environmentalists when it comes to the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
It’s clear that there’s a vast amount of detail still to be agreed and we look forward to working with Defra to design a new farm support system fit for the 21st century – one which enhances natural resources, helps mitigate and adapt to climate change, allows other species to flourish and produces a wide range of nutritious foods.
If you’d like to see wildlife-friendly organic farming as a top priority in the Agriculture Bill, find out how you can ask your MP to take action.